Giacomo Meyerbeer (September 5, 1791 – May 2, 1864) was a noted German-born opera composer, and the first great exponent of Grand Opera.Read More
Meyerbeer was born to a Jewish family in Tasdorf, near Berlin, Germany with the name Jacob Liebmann Beer. His father was the enormously wealthy financier Jacob Judah Herz Beer (1769-1825) and his much-beloved mother, Amalia Liebmann Meyer Wulff (1767-1854) also came from the wealthy elite. Their other children included the astronomer Wilhelm Beer and the poet Michael Beer.
Meyerbeer made his debut as a nine-year old playing a Mozart concerto in Berlin. Throughout his youth, although he was determined to become a musician, he found it difficult to decide between playing and composition. Certainly other professionals in the decade 1810-1820, including Moscheles, considered him amongst the greatest virtuosi of his period. In his youth Beer studied with Antonio Salieri and the German master and friend of Goethe, Carl Friedrich Zelter. Realizing, however, that a full understanding of Italian opera was essential for his musical development, he went to study in Italy for some years, during which time he adopted the first name Giacomo. The 'Meyer' in his surname he adopted after the death of his great-grandfather. It was during this time that he became acquainted with, and impressed by, the works of his contemporary Gioacchino Rossini.
Meyerbeer's name first became known internationally with his opera Il crociato in Egitto (premiered in Venice in 1824, and produced in London and Paris in 1825; incidentally the last opera ever to feature a castrato), but he became virtually a superstar with Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil, with libretto by Eugène Scribe and Casimir Delavigne), produced in Paris in 1831 and regarded by some as the first grand opera, although this honor rightly belongs to Auber's La muette de Portici. The fusion of dramatic music, melodramatic plot and sumptuous staging proved a sure-fire formula which Meyerbeer repeated in Les Huguenots (1836), Le prophète (1849), and L'Africaine, (produced posthumously, 1865). All of these operas held the international stage throughout the 19th century, as did the more pastoral Dinorah (1859). However, because they were expensive to stage, requiring large casts of leading singers, and subject to consistent attack from the prevalent Wagnerian schools, they gradually fell into desuetude.
Meyerbeer left Paris for Berlin in 1842 to take the post of Court musical director, but returned to Paris in 1849.
Meyerbeer's immense wealth (increased by the success of his operas) and his continuing adherence to his Jewish religion set him apart somewhat from many of his musical contemporaries. They also gave rise to malicious rumours that his success was due to his bribing musical critics. Richard Wagner (see below) accused him of being only interested in money, not music. Meyerbeer was, however, a deeply serious musician and a sensitive personality. He philosophically resigned himself to being a victim of his own success.